Statement of the Honorable John Conyers, Jr. for the Forum on “The Electoral College and the Future of American Democracy”
Washington, DC, December 6, 2016
I want to thank the Members and panelists for participating in today’s forum on the Electoral College. We are holding this panel because recent elections and public sentiment have made it clear that there are serious problems with the present system for electing our President and Vice President.
We begin with the fact that Hillary Clinton received more than 2.5 million more popular votes than Donald Trump -- the largest divergence between the popular and electoral votes in our Nation’s history. This constitutes the very definition of anti-democratic.
Under our current system, the votes of millions of people in non-swing states are effectively lost when they vote for the candidate who loses their state because all of that state’s electoral votes will be given to the other candidate.
This is why Members of Congress over the years have introduced more than 700 proposals to eliminate the Electoral College.
This is why 11 states accounting for 164 electoral votes have entered an interstate compact to cast their electoral votes for the popular vote winner, and legislation to enter the compact has been passed by at least 1 legislative chamber in 5 more states.
And, this is why a recent Gallup Poll showed that more than 60% of voters support direct popular election for President.
We also must face up to the cold reality that the Electoral College is rooted in slavery. As Professor Amar explains to us, slave states opposed direct elections for President because “in a direct election system, the North would outnumber the South, whose many slaves . . . could not vote. But the Electoral College . . . instead let each southern state count its slaves, albeit with a two-fifths discount, in computing its share of the overall count.”
The arguments in defense of the Electoral College, on the other hand, are in my view, largely anachronistic.
Electoral College defenders say that it serves to check the passions of ordinary voters. Yet, the Framers did not account for the rise of political parties when creating the Electoral College.
In fact, the Electoral College today serves to aggravate those passions, with most of our citizens told they are living in either a “Red” or a “Blue” state, rather than part of a single, indivisible union.
Defenders also claim the present system helps protect small-population states and rural areas from domination by large-population states and urban areas. In fact, under our current system, candidates overlook most states -- large and small – and instead focus most of their time campaigning in only a few of the so-called swing states.
It has also been argued that the Electoral College serves to correct poor decisions by voters at a time when they were relatively ill-informed because nationwide communications were poor, literacy rates were low, and the Nation’s political system was undeveloped.
Today, of course, we live in an era of instant mass communication, high literacy rates, and a robust and sophisticated political system.
Most importantly, I want everyone in this room to understand today’s forum is not an isolated event – rather it is part of an ongoing process that could lead to change and reform.
Whether that change will come through a constitutional amendment, an agreement between the states comprising 270 or more Electoral College votes, or a subsequent interstate compact approved by Congress, I cannot say.
Each of these options presents important political and legal questions that I look forward to exploring today.
But I can say that change only comes when we have discussions such as today, when the states experiment and take action, and when the people become directly engaged.
As a member who cares very deeply about the future of our democracy and the principle of one-person-one vote, I very much intend to remain engaged in moving this issue forward.